Last Updated: January 17, 2020
Deemed today as a mecca for classy, modernised dining options and the coolest bars in town, Keong Saik Road has transcended from being a prominent red-light district in the 1960s to a buzzing neighbourhood filled with tourists, hipsters and foodies.
Rows of traditional conserved shophouses stand in contrast to the canvas of skyscrapers standing tall behind, seamlessly fusing traditional and modern aesthetics together. Nestled comfortably along the historic lanes of Keong Saik Road is Wang Yuan Cafe.
Embracing the nature of its surroundings, Wang Yuan Cafe is a cosy coffeehouse which marries the concept of a modernised cafe ambience whilst serving heart-warming traditional dishes beloved by many Singaporeans.
With the turquoise patterned wallpaper placed across its shopfront, Wang Yuan Cafe is hard to miss. In fact, in comparison to the other restaurants and cafes at its surroundings, it stood out rather prominently with cries for attention.
Inside the cafe, however, eluded a different vibe. Apart from its maroon-coloured chairs, the other furnishings, walls and floorings were dressed in monochromatic hues of black and white, housing all the quintessential traits of a modern cafe.
Helmed by a Peranakan founder, Mr Jeffery, the mains served at Wang Yuan Cafe are hugely Nonya-influenced. Naturally, their Traditional Katong Laksa (S$7) was a must-try item.
Served with cockles, prawns, sliced fish cakes, beansprouts and half a hard-boiled egg, Wang Yuan’s laksa packed a stronger seafood flavour as compared to other regular laksa‘s that I have had before. The fragrance and flavour of the coconut took a back seat, subtly showing its charm with every spoonful.
The bowl of laksa had a very gentle hue of orange and similar to its look, it was not spicy at all. In fact, we were told by the service staff that they have had kids ordering the Traditional Katong Laksa and downing the entire bowl by themselves!
Like me, if you prefer your laksa to be on the spicy side, feel free to request for more of their home-made sambal chilli and stir that dollop of fieriness into your laksa broth. You will be pleasantly surprised by the change in taste of the entire dish just from the anchovies that are ground into the sambal.
Seafood Laksa Risotto (S$15.80) is the cafe’s attempt on a modern take of a traditional dish, with the hopes of retaining conventional flavours whilst catering to the demands of consumers in the millennial era. This was definitely my favourite dish of the day.
The taste of the Seafood Laksa Risotto is more complex than just describing it as being ‘creamy’. It has a combination of sweetness from the seafood stock, slight spiciness from the chilli paste, richness from the coconut milk, and fragrance from the laksa leaves.
More importantly, the risotto was held in a natural stone bowl, keeping it warm and retaining its flavours throughout our entire meal. A spoonful of the risotto and you can definitely tell that it was cooked to perfection. The rice was dense, yet soft and chewy at the same time, making each mouth remarkably irresistible.
After trying both the laksa dishes, I had high expectations for Wang Yuan Cafe’s Classic Nasi Lemak Fried Chicken (S$7.50). Sadly, the dish did not leave as much of an impression.
This was a plate of decent nasi lemak. However, it was in my opinion, very normal in terms of the condiments used and the taste of the green pandan rice. The only saving grace of the dish was the fried chicken wings, which were well seasoned and fried to a golden brown. Crispy on the outside, whilst remaining tender and filled with juice inside.
Savoury dishes aside, Wang Yuan Cafe is probably more recognised for the wide variety of dessert items they carry. Years of R&D has led to the creation of their famous snow mountains such as the Mango Snow Mountain (S$8.80) and Milo Dinosaur Snow Mountain (S$7.80).
We decided to go off-track and opted to have a taste of their traditional desserts as well as their ‘secret’ dessert menu—Mao Shan Treasures.
As a fool for traditional desserts, the Bur Bur Pulut Hitam (S$4.80) won me over instantly. The black glutinous rice was dry-roasted before cooking, intensifying the mild and nutty flavour of the dessert. I enjoy my pulut hitam to be slightly watery and the bowl I had at Wang Yuan Cafe was the ideal consistency.
Besides that, it was also not too sweet, thus, it was an easy feat wiping out an entire bowl even after a filling meal.
Last but not least, we ended our meal with the deciding factor for our trip to Wang Yuan Cafe, the Mao Shan Treasures dessert series. “What’s so special?”, you might ask. Well, let me tell you that we are not talking about durian-infused desserts, but the real deal. Mao Shan Wang itself, with the seed intact and blinged out in edible 24K gold leaf.
Although we were almost maxed out by this time, my partner who is a big durian lover, insisted we try at least two out of the three desserts in the series. I willingly obliged, secretly excited to witness the golden glory that was making its way to our table and eventually into our mouths.
Mao Shan Golden Pagoda (S$38.80) features a stack of fresh buttermilk pancakes served a la minute from the griddle, paired with two pieces of gold-coated Mao Shan Wang. As advised by Mr Jeffery himself, in order to really enjoy this dessert, the pancakes should first be eaten alone, before spreading the durians like butter to taste the difference.
At first, I thought that the buttermilk pancakes were not flavoured. However, to my surprise, the pancakes—which were actually infused with Mao Shan Wang puree—exuded a slight durian aroma, making it very fragrant and sweet even when eaten alone.
The durian, when buttered onto the pancake, brought the dessert to another level with its slight bitter-sweet taste. If you are not a fan of durians, take on the pancakes alone as your first step to understanding the beauty of this tropical fruit. You might fall in love with its taste after your first bite.
With the heat and humidity in Singapore, there is no doubt that Mao Shan Golden Snow Peak (S$22.80) is the most popular item out of all three in the series. Also infused with Mao Shan Wang, the snow ice was light, delicate and unexpectedly creamy.
What made this dessert stand out was not only the (once again) gold-coated Mao Shan Wang but the durian pengat—made with 100% durian cooked down to a thick and rich paste. For durian lovers, I would highly recommend you to get a spoonful of everything (snow ice, durian pengat and some durian flesh) and savour the different layers of texture dancing in your mouth.
This dessert will certainly satisfy your durian cravings and cool you down at the same time!
Wang Yuan’s Mao Shan Treasures definitely spoilt me as it has raised my expectations of durian desserts, leaving me to wonder if I can ever find other places that will outdo this experience. I agree that the prices for these three desserts might be steep, but for durian lovers, give Wang Yuan Cafe a chance and try the desserts for yourself before ruling it out. Who knows, you might be coming back to get your durian fixes even after the season is over!
Mao Shan Treasures aside, the other dishes and desserts sold at Wang Yuan Cafe are reasonably priced considering the ingredients used and the effort that is put into the presentation of each dish. With its extensive menu items and cosy ambience, I will definitely head back to the cafe with a group of friends to explore the other items soon.
Expected Damage: S$15 – S$35 per pax
Our Rating: 4 / 5
Wang Yuan Cafe
33 Keong Saik Road, #01-01, Singapore 089140
33 Keong Saik Road, #01-01, Singapore 089140